The Lead Masks Case

In this article I describe one of the most intriguing police cases in Brazil. The case happened in 1966 and was the subject of an extensive investigation. It remains unsolved to this day. The information presented here is the result of my own research. Pictures are credited when possible, and sources are available at the end. Any errors or inaccuracies are my own. The article is divided in three parts: The event, a chronological sequence describing the facts before and after the main event, The Investigation, an account of the investigative work done on the case, and Opinion, my ramblings about the story.

Vintém Hill, site of the event (source: Cruzeiro Magazine, May 4, 1968)

The Event

Friends Miguel José Viana (34) and Manuel Pereira da Cruz (32) live in Campos dos Goytacazes, in the state of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. They own a small TV repair shop. Miguel is married to Elsa Gomes Viana and Manuel is married to Neli da Cruz. Both had attended electronic courses in São Paulo. Miguel has also completed a correspondence course in electronics from National Schools, Los Angeles, in 1951. He had also contacts with other technical schools in USA, like Hollywood Radio and Television Institute, also from California. They are well regarded in Campos, specially for their expertise in electronics and TV repair.

Manuel, left, and Miguel, right (source: Cruzeiro Magazine, September 12, 1966)

May 12*, 1966

(* many reports say June 13, but there are two newspaper clips from May 13 describing the explosion, so here it is assumed the event happened the night before)

Miguel, Manuel and their friend Élcio Correia Gomes participate in an experiment on Atafona beach, a famous touristic point in São João da Barra, next to Campos. At 9 pm, there is a huge explosion that produces a ball of fire that lights up the sky and was heard from 10 kilometers away. Witnesses also say they feel the ground shaking in the surroundings and some nearby houses suffer minor damages. A movie session is interrupted because of panic. The rumor at the time was that a “flying saucer” went down into the ocean. A local says he first saw a lightened ship in the distance, and then the ship was not there anymore. The explosion draws attention from the Navy, which starts an investigation.

Detective Válter Fernandes, from São João da Barra Police Station, also hears the explosion and feels the building shake. He goes out to investigate. On the beach, he senses a strong smell of sulfur coming from a track on the sand (35 centimeters wide and 25 centimeters deep), looking like marks of large tires. After taking some testimonies, he reports the fact to his superiors.

Some time before the explosion, Miguel had contacted a clandestine ham radio operator, Evaristo Fidélis de Morais, who is said to own a powerful radio transmitter, some 300 meters away from Atafona beach.

Below, a picture of Élcio (source: Linha Direta TV documentary from Globo, 2004). Élcio helped Miguel and Manuel at the shop, and received mentoring in electronics from Miguel.

Élcio Correia Gomes

June, 1966

A home made artifact explodes in a garden at Manuel’s home. The picture below shows Sebastião Pereira da Cruz, Manuel’s father, near the site of the explosion in the garden, showing the remains of some metal pipes and wires.

Sebastião Pereira da Cruz, Manuel’s father (source: Cruzeiro Magazine, September 12, 1966)

August 16, 1966

Manuel tells his wife that he and Miguel are going to São Paulo to buy an used car and some electronic components for the shop. He packs a large sum of money: Cr$ 2.300.000,00 (Brazilian Cruzeiros). Different sources quote different amounts: some say it was 4 Mi, 5 Mi, or even 6 Mi. He also put two towels in another package. Apparently, some friends, knowing they were going to São Paulo, asked Miguel and Manuel to bring them a few things from São Paulo, giving them some money.

August 17, 1966, 9:00 am

Aluísio Batista Azevedo, a friend of Miguel and Manuel, takes them to the bus station. There, Élcio meets Miguel and Manuel, as they embark on a bus from “Auto Viação Santo Antônio”. Their seat numbers are 25 and 26. But instead of São Paulo, their destination is Niterói, another city in Rio de Janeiro State.

Bus ticket for seat 26, used by Miguel or Manuel (source: Linha Direta TV documentary, from Globo 1990)
“Viação Santo Antônio” bus departure times for Campos-Niterói (source: Diário de Notícias, August 17,1966)

August 17, 1966, 2:00 pm

They arrive at Niterói under rain. It is not known if someone is waiting for them at the bus station.

August 17, 1966, a few minutes after arrival

They go to an electronic store (“Fluscop”, at Alberto Vítor Street, number 13) and have a conversation with Hernani Teixeira de Carvalho Filho, the owner, who have been with them four days before at Campos. At that occasion, Manuel showed Hernani a magazine ad for a AM/FM frequency generator valued at more than 1 million Cruzeiros. At Fluscop, they ask for some components from Philips, but the store has none in stock. Hernani found the request a little unusual, because Miguel and Manual are experienced technicians and should have known such components are not usually found in this city. Upon leaving, Miguel and Manuel invite Hernani to go with them to São Paulo so they can try finding the components there, but Hernani declines. Two other people witness this conversation at the store: an employee and a taxi driver.

Below, an advertisement for Fluscop on a newspaper of the time (“TV Tubes, we install TV tubes right at your house”). Fluscop is very well regarded in the field, expanding its business around 1965-1966.

Advertisement for Fluscop on a newspaper of the time

August 17, 1966, 2:45 pm

Miguel and Manuel go to a plastics and rubber store (“Casa Brasília”, at Coronel Gomes Machado Street, number 69) and buy two raincoats for Cr$ 9400,00 each. They seem to be in a hurry and, although it is raining outside, they do not wear the raincoats when they leave the store.

Advertisement for Casa Brasília on a newspaper of the time

August 17, 1966, 3:15 pm

Miguel and Manuel go to a bar (“Bar e Mercearia São Jorge”, at Marquês de Paraná Avenue, number 172) near Vintém Hill. They buy a bottle of mineral water and are served by Maria de Lourdes Sá Relvas, daughter of Miguel de Sá Relvas, owner of the bar. Although in a hurry, they ask and wait for a receipt, so that they can return the empty bottle later and get a refund (Cr$ 200,00). They leave and head for Andrade Pinto Street, which ends right at the base of Vintém Hill.

August 17, 1966, some time after 3:15 pm

They arrive at the end of Andrade Pinto Street and take one of the existing tracks to climb the hill.

August 17, 1966, possibly around 4:30 pm

Miguel and Manuel arrive at the top of the hill. It is not known if they got there alone.

Places visited by Miguel and Manuel. Hill top coordinates are approximately 22°53’34″S 43°06’19″W (source: Google Earth)

Above, one possible path for Miguel and Manuel from the Bus Station to the base of Vintém Hill, in blue, and then to the top of the hill, in red. The exact point of the base and top are guesses, since there are many different paths leading to the top of the hill. Estimated walking distances and times:

  • From bus station to Fluscop: 1300m, 17 minutes.
  • From Fluscop to Casa Brasília: 280m, 4 minutes.
  • From Casa Brasília to Bar São Jorje: 850m, 11 minutes.
  • From Bar São Jorge to base of hill (end of Andrade Pinto Street): 1000m, 16 minutes.

August 17, 1966, around 7 pm

Gracinda Barbosa Coutinho and her three children are driving around the Vintém Hill area when they see some lights in the sky. They stop the car and get out to watch it for 4 minutes. She describes it as a bright oval orange object with a ring of fire, which emits blue rays of light in many directions, moving up and down above the hill. Gracinda goes home and tells Paulo Roberto, her husband, about the lights. Paulo goes to the location but sees nothing. They decide to not tell anyone about this event at this time.

Gracinda and her three children (source: Cruzeiro Magazine, September 12, 1966)

August 18, 1966, morning

While setting traps for small animals on the top of the Vintém Hill, a boy sees two men lying on the ground. Not sure if they are sleeping or dead, he runs away and goes to the home of Antônio Guerra de Castro, a policeman that lives nearby, to tell him about the fact. The policeman does not pay too much attention to him and does nothing about it.

August 20, 1966, afternoon

Another boy is at the top of the Vintém Hill trying to get a kite from the top of a tree, when he also sees the bodies. Late afternoon that day, when he comes back to town he calls the Police Station to report the fact. Because it is getting late and also because of bad weather, the Police decides not to climb the hill that afternoon.

August 21, 1966, morning

Policemen, firemen, reporters and other people climb Vintém Hill to rescue the bodies. Because of bad weather, they take more than two hours to get there. At the scene, a clearing of about 10 square meters at the very top of the hill, they find the bodies of Miguel and Manuel, dressed in identical formal suits and wearing raincoats. They are easily identified because both men have their personal documents. Signs of blood are apparent on the mouth and nose of the dead men. The bodies are laying on their back on a spread of Pindoba leaves (a kind of palm tree). There are also signs of blood on some of the leaves. This kind palm tree leave can only be cut with a knife, but none is found. At the scene the Police finds these items:

  • A bottle of mineral water (almost empty);
  • Improvised cups made of aluminum foil;
  • A package with two towels;
  • A wedding ring tied to a reading glass, inside Miguel’s jacket;
  • A wrist-watch stored inside a pocket in Miguel’s pants;
  • Money (Cr$ 157.000,00 hidden in a plastic bag within Miguel’s pants and Cr$ 4.000,00 within Manuel’s jacket);
  • A folded, unused, handkerchief with embroidered initials A.M.S;
  • The receipt of the water bottle;
  • Matches and cigarettes inside Miguel’s jacket;
  • Two unused bus tickets from Niterói to Campos (only one newspaper clip mention this item);
  • Square pieces of cellophane paper impregnated with some substance;
  • A newspaper from August 17;
  • Two masks beside the bodies. The crudely made masks are shaped like sunglasses, but are made of pure lead and have no eye-holes;
  • A hand written paper note with some electronic equations;
  • A hand written paper note with letters and numbers in a kind of code;
  • A hand written paper note with written instructions, found inside Miguel’s pocket.
The bodies as found on the scene (source: Cruzeiro Magazine, May 4, 1968)
The paper notes (source: Cruzeiro Magazine, September 12, 1966)
The water bottle receipt (source: Linha Direta TV documentary, 2004)
The note with written instructions (source: Linha Direta TV documentary, 2004)
Part of the note note with codes (source: Linha Direta TV documentary, 2004)

The note with instructions reads:

16:30 be at specified place
18:30 ingest capsules after the effect,
protect metals wait for signal mask

It is not clear if the last line is a single sentence, or multiple abbreviated sentences. It could be “wait for signal (from the) mask”, or “wait for the signal, (then use) mask”.

The crude lead masks (source: Cruzeiro Magazine, September 12, 1966)

A Police investigation starts, headed by José Venâncio Bittencourt, chief officer of the local Police Station. The bodies are taken to the coroner’s office, which is very busy that day, because the body of an important detective officer is also there, and the Police force is pressuring for release of his body. The coroner is absent and, contrary to protocols, an assistant coroner takes care of Miguel and Manuel and performs himself the preparation for autopsy (removal of internal organs). It is reported that no signs of violence or injury are found on the bodies.

August 22, 1966

Miguel’s brother, Herval Viana, goes to the coroner’s office in Niterói to claim the bodies.

August 24, 1966

Miguel and Manuel are buried at Caju cemetery, in Campos. A reporter goes to the coroner’s office in Niterói and learns that the organs of Miguel and Manuel were simply discarded, without proper tests being performed. Apparently, the organs had been sitting on a shelf all these days and became too deteriorated to be of use. Besides, the office lacked the proper reagents to perform all the tests.

When the case of Miguel and Manuel makes the news, Gracinda and her husband inform the Police about the sighting of the lights above Vintém Hill. There are reports of other people calling the Police with similar stories after that.

At Niterói, Police questions Carlos Macário de Vasconcelos and Luiza Sales de Vasconcelos, a couple living in a house 200 meters distant from the site where the men were found dead. The couple explains they are not the owners of the place, but are supervising reformation work for Laércio da Silva Dias, the owner. The Police finds a large amount of images and statues of Saints in the house. Carlos testifies that he has no relation to spiritualism and its practices.

Police also returns to Vintém Hill to make some sketches of the area. They find a carved stone post on the ground, about 30 centimeters tall. It is believed this stone marking could have been used as a reference point for a rendezvous at the site.

August 25, 1966

After examining the lead masks together with some policemen and journalists, chief officer José Venâncio Bittencourt suffers an allergy crisis, giving him red spots through his body.

August 26, 1966

Since the first autopsy report failed to identify the cause of death, the investigators asked another expert, Dr. Alberto Farah, to review the report and emit his opinion. Later, Venâncio learns from Farah the cause of death remains unknown.

August 27, 1966

Federal Police is brought into the case and starts investigating in four States: Guanabara, Rio de Janeiro, Espírito Santo and São Paulo. The Army, Navy and Air-force Secret Service are also investigating the case, wanting to know if the alleged experiment has any relation to the explosion at Atafona beach months earlier.

José Venâncio Bittencourt travels to Campos to investigate the life of Miguel and Manuel. Élcio is arrested and brought to Niterói for interrogation.

August 31, 1966

Investigators at Campos search the house of Evaristo Fidélis de Morais, who was contacted by Miguel before the explosion at Atafona beach. They find the antenna, but the transmitter had already been sold. São João da Barra has no registered ham operators, yet, the Navy had intercepted a few transmissions between prefixes CKJ21, CKJ22, and CKJ23 in the area two days before the explosion at Atafona. None of theses prefixes are registered.

Unknown to Élcio, a lawyer enters a habeas corpus to set him free, and the Police complies with the order.

September 1, 1966

José Venâncio Bittencourt is promoted to another job in the Police, and leaves the case. José Silva is appointed to assume as the new chief officer at a future date. Meanwhile the case is assigned to officers Idovam Ferreira (who brought Élcio to Niterói for questioning) and Hélio Brasil.

September 2, 1966

Élcio presents an alibi for August 17 afternoon. He shows a receipt from a vehicle parts store in Campos, nearly 400 kilometers away from Niterói, where Miguel and Manuel died. Later that day, at the presumed time of death of Miguel and Manuel, he was seen by neighbors in front of his house working on this car.

September 3, 1966

José Venâncio Bittencourt says that, although not directly involved in the case anymore, he is still interested in the investigation and is headed for Campos once more. He discuss with his officers if it is worth asking for an exhumation and new analysis of the bodies.

September, 1966 (around one month after the bodies were released)

While browsing at Miguel’s shop, Herval finds that the paper notes found with the bodies were cut from a notebook he finds there.

Herval Viana returns to the coroner’s office at Niterói to get the death certificates, signed by Dr. Astor Pereira de Melo. It states that, because of advanced state of decomposition, it is not possible to attest the cause of death. It is found that the first autopsy report contained a serious error: the name of specialist Sebastião Faillace was erased and replaced by other name, Walmor Giani. It is speculated that Sebastião did not agree with the report, so he asked his name to be removed from it.

Autopsy report (source: Linha Direta TV documentary, 1990)
Autopsy report close up showing the erasure (source: Linha Direta TV documentary, 1990)

The Investigation

Élcio testifies that, contrary to what have being said, Miguel and Manuel were the masterminds behind the Atafona explosion, and he just accepted their invitation to watch the show. In his first testimony, he said they went to Atafona in Miguel’s car. Later he changed the story, saying Miguel’s car was broken and they went on his own car.

Valdir Cardoso, who worked for Miguel and Manuel, says Élcio lied about the Atafona experiment. According to Cardoso, Élcio invited the three of them (Miguel, Manuel and Valdir) to watch something supernatural at Atafona, but did not disclose many details in advance. He said the trip from Campos to Atafona that night lasted less than 1 hour (40 kilometers). He said Élcio went to the beach and the three men waited for 10 minutes. Then Élcio came back running and they saw a huge red-purple light come down towards the water. Élcio urged them to enter the car and get away from there, because something bad was about to happen. Valdir remembers a strong smell of sulfur in the air. He said he did not hear any explosion at the time.

Valdir also says that Élcio was a Spiritualist, and that Élcio said he could incorporate spirits: sometimes he was “Dr. Paulo”, sometimes he was “Dr. Samuel”. Élcio had a great influence on Miguel and Manuel, and both often came to Élcio seeking help from the spiritual world: Miguel was asthmatic and Manuel suffered from chronic diarrhea. According to Valdir, “Dr. Samuel” always gave good advice. The four friends, Miguel, Manuel, Valdir and Élcio, used to gather at the shop for long spiritual sessions. Miguel and Élcio are the more enthusiastic of the group, while Manuel at first was a little skeptic. A few days before August 17, Manuel is quoted saying: “I am going to watch a definite experiment. After that, I tell you if I believe it or not”.

Police finds that Miguel and Manuel performed other experiments in the cities of Macaé, Campos and Niterói (all in the state of Rio de Janeiro), and Mimoso do Sul, Alegre, Cachoeiro de Itapemirim and Colatina (in the nearby state of Espírito Santo). The Military wanted to know if these experiments could have posed any threat to national security.

Map showing Atafona, Campos, Macaé and Niterói (source: Google Earth)

Manuel’s wife, Neli, confirms that Manuel had participated in the Atafona beach experiment. She also confirmed that the lead masks were made by Miguel and Manuel the day before they traveled to Niterói. It seems they used a lead pipe as source material for the masks. In a bucket at Manuel’s house, Police found cut-out pieces of lead that matched the holes on the masks, over the nose. At the time, Manuel explained to Neli they needed the masks for “work”. At the shop, Police also found other lead masks.

The note with the instructions is found to be Miguel’s handwriting, but the terms (like “ingest capsules”) are not part of his vocabulary. The assumption is that someone like a medical doctor dictated the note to him.

The Engineering Institute of the Army states that the masks did not contain any radioactive material. The analysis was requested by the Police because of the unknown nature of the experiment performed by Miguel and Manuel.

The suicide pact hypothesis is discarded early on, because of many factors: no motive, the refund receipt, the missing money.

One line of investigation is espionage using radio transmissions: they were electronics technicians with the right expertise, codes were found with them, the hill top was remote and isolated, being a good place for making radio transmissions.

Another line of investigation focuses on contraband. The newspaper from August 17 found on the scene had a story on a group of smugglers that was partially dismantled. Five smugglers were identified but there were two more still at loose, according to the paper.

In yet another line of investigation, Miguel and Manuel were victims of a trap. They went to Niterói to visit a Spiritualist center and someone there, learning they were carrying a large sum of money, set them up. According to this theory, they were sent to the top of the Vintém Hill on a phony mission and were robbed and assassinated there.

The main line of investigation, however, focused on a scientific experiment gone wrong.

Police estimates the time it takes from the Bus Station to Fluscop, by bus, car and walking and compares it to the actual times Miguel and Manuel supposedly took. In any scenario, there is a gap that can not be accounted for. The assumption is that, before going to Fluscop, they stopped at an unknown location to meet someone. An investigator observed that there was a famous Spiritualist center along the way, and speculated that they went there to receive their final instructions for the experiment.

According to the investigation, one of the paper notes that contains codes is actually something else: the numbers and letters are electronic codes to identify valves used in TV sets. According to Élcio, he was the one who asked them to bring the valves and gave them their codes. Indeed, the three codes shown in the picture are codes for electronic valves, as can be seen here:

EY88, first produced in 1959.

ECL82, first produced in 1956.

12AU7, first produced in 1951.

Both families deny that the handkerchief belonged to either Miguel or Manuel. The Police can not identify any acquaintance, family or not, having the initials A.M.S.

There is a contradiction about the wrist-watch found with the bodies. Miguel’s family says his watch stayed at his house, in Campos, but the Police says they found a watch inside Miguel’s clothing. Also the owners of the bar where they bought mineral water said Miguel looked at his watch constantly, seeming to be in a hurry.

At their shop, Police finds a book named “Vida no Planeta Marte” (“Life on Planet Mars”) filled with written notes. In the preface, Hercílio Maes, the author of the book, says the text was dictated to him by a spiritual entity named “Ramatís”. This book informs us that Mars is an inhabited planet and describes in great detail many aspects of the Martian civilization: family, education, culture, religion, entertainment, technology, industry, transportation, government, among others. There is a chapter “Airships, spaceships, flying saucers” that talks about Martian spaceship technology, and another one named “Interplanetary voyages”. The chapter “Reincarnation” explains the spirit of a human being that dies on Earth can be reincarnated as a Martian (but native Martians can tell if a fellow is “native” or “foreign”).

Book cover of “Life on Planet Mars”

Police finds out that on August 15, two days before the deaths, Miguel and Manuel took the same bus line to Niterói. But during one stop, Manuel was not feeling well, and they had to return to Campos. On August 17, on the very same stop, Manuel again was ill, but this time they managed to get back to the bus and continued the journey to Niterói.

A toxicological report of the bodies is released, but it was almost certainly forged: the internal organs were discarded before any tests could be made, as discovered by a reporter at the time. Idovam Ferreira stated that he was under pressure to solve the case and he could not and would not fight the “administration”.

In 1967, the Justice Department, unhappy with the outcome of the Police investigation, orders an exhumation of the bodies of Miguel and Manuel. A new investigation begins, headed by Saulo Soares de Souza, homicide detective.

On August 25, 1967, the exhumation takes place. Sebastião Faillace (whose name was erased from the previous report) is assigned to the job. He finds that the bodies had received an excess of formaldehyde, and because of that it is not possible to perform proper toxicological analysis. The cause of death remains unknown.

Exhumation at Caju cemetery, Campos (source: Cruzeiro Magazine, May 4, 1968)

On September 1967, the Head of Security of Rio de Janeiro State requests help from outside to solve the case. A program from USA Department of State named Point IV is expected to help the investigations. Point IV was a technical assistance program for developing countries announced by USA in 1949.

Early in 1968, bones and tissue collected during exhumation are sent to Institute of Atomic Energy of São Paulo, as a last measure of trying to identify the cause of death. All levels of measured elements seem normal.

On September 1968, a photographer named Ari Pereira captures an image of an unidentified flying object over the Vintém Hill. The object stays still for a few minutes and than goes away at great speed. Ari explains the object emitted a silver light so intense he had to use a yellow filter on his camera. Many other people in Niterói also say they saw the object.

Photograph taken by Ari (source: Diário de Notícias, September 13, 1968)l

On January 1969, a woman tells the Police she knows who is responsible for the deaths of Miguel and Manuel. She is kept under custody, while the Police is searching for the suspect. The story was probably fake, and the investigation lead nowhere.

On February 1969, a man named Hamilton Dezani (a confessed criminal sentenced to 50 years for other crimes) admits to a judge that he knows the fate of Miguel and Manuel. Hamilton says that on August 1966 he was invited by three burglars to participate in a “job”. They all met at a Spiritualist center in Niterói where Miguel and Manuel, the victims, already awaited. Hamilton drove the three men and the two victims around the town until one of the men asked him to stop. Hamilton waited in the car, and several minutes later the three men returned without Miguel and Manuel. They told Hamilton that they had forced the victims to ingest poison and got their money. Hamilton is brought to Niterói for interrogation and, given the number of contradictions in his story, Police quickly determines he was lying. Hamilton’s real intention was to leave the prison and try to escape while in Niterói. He is sent back to São Paulo together and sued for false testimony.

On May, 1969, Edmo Lutterbach, the District Attorney assigned to the case is transferred to a new location. The new District Attorney asks the case to be closed, even though the Police investigation is still going on.

On April, 1980, Jacques Vallée, an academic that has worked for NASA and a leading expert in the UFO phenomena, comes to Brazil to investigate the case. He climbs Vintém Hill and talks to Police detectives and reporters. He notes that the spot where the bodies were found is barren: grass had not grown since. The results of his investigations becomes the prologue of his book Confrontations: A Scientist’s Search for Alien Contact.

Sketch of the death scene made by Vallée and presented in his book


It is clear that Miguel and Manuel were involved with Spiritualism and its practices. It is also clear they thought they were going to participate in some unusual experiment at Niterói, having received instructions from a third party and preparing themselves in advance. If they believed in the fantastic story of that book by “Ramatís”, it is possible that, in their minds, they were really going to communicate with or even contact beings from other planets. In the end, this naivety is what got them into trouble. Miguel and Manuel were expecting to return to Campos after the experiment, but something did not go according to plan. About the return trip, if they planned to used the same bus company (“Viação Santo Antônio”), the departure times from Niterói to Campos are 6 pm, 10 pm and 12 am, as we can see in the time table shown before. We know that 6 pm is out of question, because they were supposed to be at the hill top at 6:30 pm. The next slot after that is 10 pm, meaning they would have to stay at Niterói for several hours after the their appointment at Vintém Hill. To me it is an indication they were expecting support from someone at the city, at least for arranging them a place to stay for a few hours (they did not bring any luggage for sleeping over and returning the next day).

Every detective story has a shady character and, in this case, that role belongs to Élcio, the Spiritualist friend. I have no doubt he knew exactly what was going on. He may have no direct involvement in the deaths, but I think it was his influence on Miguel and Manuel that directed them to the experiment on that hill. I do not think Élcio thought they would die, but since this is what happened, he chose to keep a low profile and hide information from the Police.

If there is one big mishap in this tragedy, it is the failure to perform a toxicological analysis. Because of that, the cause of death could not be determined and the whole investigation was severely harmed. Was it poison? How long it took to act? Was it a fatal combination of different medicine? An excess dose? For quite some time people believed a toxicological analysis was performed and the results turned nothing. This is what led people to believe that, whatever killed them, it was not from this world.

But there is an UFO in the story, some say. The problem I have with that is: Gracinda and her husband report the UFO sighting above Vintém Hill only after the main story with all its details hit the news. If it was the other way around, that is, first Gracinda reports the UFO and the next day someone finds the bodies exactly below the point where the UFO was hovering, it would be much more believable. This is how humans work. Our minds try to match previous experiences to the current events. Maybe the light in the sky was not exactly above the hill, maybe it did not look like an UFO, maybe it was not even the right time or date. But now that the news of a strange death are all over the place, it is possible for people to adapt their story to fit the events.

Regarding the amount of money Miguel and Manuel were carrying, Brazilian currency has changed a lot since 1966. For comparison, here is a newspaper clip quoting exchange rates of common foreign currencies for August 17, 1966:

Exchange rates for August 17, 1966

We can see one American Dollar equals 2200 Brazilian Cruzeiros at the time of the events. The amount they were carrying was then equivalent to US$ 1045 in 1966. The refund for the empty water bottle would then be US$ 0.09 and the raincoats would have cost US$ 4.27 each. The money found with the bodies was equivalent to just US$ 73. Miguel and Manuel have told friends and relatives they were going to use the money to buy an used car, possibly a popular Volkswagen Beetle. Again looking at newspapers from 1966, here are two advertisements for this type of car:

Used car adds from January 1966 (Jornal do Brasil)

One model from 1961 cost Cr$ 1.700.000, and another model from 1964 cost Cr$ 2.500.000, so the values match the story they were telling. Not knowing how much Miguel and Manuel earned at their jobs, though, it is difficult to precisely assess the importance of this figures.

A few years ago I submitted the local equivalent of a FOIA request to the Brazilian Navy, asking if it had conducted any investigation on the Atafona beach incident back in 1966. A couple of weeks later an answer came in: “the Navy archive contains no record of an investigation on the explosion at Atafona beach in 1966”.

Official reply from the Navy

Considering all facts, one thing that bugs me is the death scene. The bodies were found laying on their backs, above a spread of leaves cut specifically for that purpose. They probably laid there on their own and proceeded with the instructions, taking the capsules and putting on their masks. Were the deaths so sudden they could not move at all? If it was indeed poison, wouldn’t they try to move, get up, or at least grasp their throats in their final moments? Did the capsules affected both men at exactly the same time, so one could not help the other? If this was part of an elaborate plan to rob them and make it look like a paranormal experiment gone wrong, didn’t the perpetrators think the toxicological analysis would reveal the poison? How could they know in advance the analysis was not going to be performed? It simply does not add up.


These are the sources I have used for this article. Translations (and hence errors) are my own. In some cases, because of the prolix and repetitive style of some writers, I chose to present a condensed translation. In any case, I have tried to maintain all important facts intact. I will add more sources as soon as a digitize and translate them.

Newspaper Correio da Manhã

Newspaper Diário de Notícias

Newspaper Luta Democrática

Newspaper Folha de São Paulo

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